Ordinary lives, extraordinary sacrifices
For the Nevada Appeal
Editor’s note: Ken Beaton, a retired Carson City educator, wrote the following essay after a recent trip to the World War II battlefields of Europe. He quotes from a letter written by a GI to his father.
During World War II, 16,000,000 Americans – men and women of the “greatest generation” – served their country to force the unconditional surrender of the Axis countries.
Our nation’s price tag was 405,000 killed in action (KIA) or died of wounds (DOW). Each has a story worthy of being shared. Do not forget all the physical and mental wounds of those who returned home. Some of those wounds lasted days, some a lifetime.
Everyone had their own private hell, whether it was on the ground or in the air. First Lt. Charles R. Campbell flew his B24 from Castelluccio Airfield, Italy, 725th Bomb Squadron, 451st Bomb Group, of the Fifteenth Air Force. His last letter home was Nov. 20, 1944, three weeks to the day before he was KIA. The following is what he wrote:
“It isn’t pleasant to see the realities of a war. I’m not saying this so you’ll worry more, because I know you must be worrying about me now. I just believe I should let you know just what the score is. One of the finest chaps I know is a tail gunner on my buddy’s crew. They were flying right next to me yesterday, and I saw the tail end of ship blown up and disintegrate from a direct flak burst.
“Dad, I’ve seen the worst an enemy can hand out to us, and I do know that praying helps. You don’t pray out loud because you’re too busy, but when you see it coming, you put a lot of trust in your Heavenly Father.
“We came back yesterday with the hydraulic system for the flaps, landing gear and brakes shot out. We set her down safe, and no one had a scratch.
“I look at it this way. There’s a little white piece of paper in Operations that has my name on it and 35 squares. I’m sorta living right there on that piece of paper. Every time when I come back from a mission, no matter how rough it was or how much we got shot up, I feel good when my whole crew is OK and we walk in and see another one of those white squares colored red. We’ve got 18 of them colored now. Seventeen more and we’ll be seeing the ones we love at home. Of course, besides just finishing our missions, all of us like to feel that we’re helping to finish this thing as fast as possible.
“Dad, I find the things that occupy my mind most are the plain, ordinary things of life. I want to come home just to live for the joy of living and doing.
“I want to get up in the morning, do a good hard day’s work, eat a good meal at a good family table, say ‘Hello’ to the neighbors, hoot pheasants, walk out through a pretty field of spuds, drive to town through the snow, go to church with my Dad, wrestle with the boys and tease Mom and the girls, sing in the choir, have a family dinner together on Thanksgiving, go fishing, haul more beans with my truck than the next guy can with his, hug my Mom, marry the sweetest girl in the world, do as fine a job raising a family as my Dad did, build a house and help to make it a home.
“A million things like that are what I want to live for, Dad. When I hear a beautiful piece of music, that’s what it says, and when I pray, those are the things I ask my Heavenly Father to let me do.
“I know your faith and prayers are always with me, and I hope I can live up to the kind of life you meant for me.”
Lt. Campbell was like everyone serving in the USAAF, counting down his missions. Upon completing 35 missions, an air crewman was assigned stateside. Lt. Campbell wanted to complete his missions, return home to everything he treasured in life, marry the sweetest girl in the world and build a home for his family.
Similar to the other 405,000 Americans who made the supreme sacrifice, Lt. Campbell was frozen in time in the memories of loved ones. The 405,000 never married the girl who sent them perfumed letters, had “baby boomer” children, built a home, played with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, or enjoyed being retired in their golden years.
The ordinary things in life are not ordinary to everyone.